Tuesday, January 16, 2007

On pug dogs and Harlequin Danes

From Maupertuis's Venus Physique (1745):

Nature holds the source of all these varieties, but chance or art sets them going. So that people whose work is to satisfy the tastes of curiosity seekers become practically creators of new species. We find new breeds of dogs, pigeons, canaries appearing on the market, though they did not exist in nature. At first they were individual freaks, but art and repeated generations turned them into new species. The famed Lyonnés creates each year a new variety and destroys the ones no longer in style. He corrects the shapes and varies the colors to the point of inventing species, such as the Harlequin Dane and the Mopse [Pug dog].

Why is this art restricted to animals? Why don’t the bored Sultans in their seraglios, filled with women of all known races, have them bear new species? Were I reduced, as they are, to the only pleasure that form and features can give, I would soon have recourse to greater varieties. But, however beautiful the women born for them might be, they would know only the smallest share of love’s pleasures as long as they remained ignorant of the pleasures of the mind and the heart.

Although we do not find among ourselves the creation of such new types of beauty, only too often so we see human beings who are of the same category for men of science, namely, the cross-eyed, the lame, the gouty, and the tubercular. Unfortunately, in order to fix their strain there is no need of a long series of generations. But wise Nature, because of the disgust she has inspired for these defects, has not desired that they be continued. Consequently beauty is more apt to be hereditary. The slim waist and the leg that we admire are the achievements of many generations which have applied themselves to form them.

A Northern king was able to elevate and beautify his nation. His taste for men of height and fine faces was excessive and he induced them to come to his kingdom by various means. Fortune came to men whom Nature had made tall. Today we now see a singular example of the power of kings. This nation is distinguished for its tall men and regular features. So it is with a forest whose trees dominate all the neighboring woods, if the attentive eye of the master forester takes care to cultivate only trees that are straight and well chosen.

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